BBC News, Monday, 22 April, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Oxygen treatment could aid Beckham
David Beckham is racing to be fit for the World Cup
England football captain David Beckham is set to undergo treatment in an oxygen tent to keep him fit while he recovers from a broken foot. BBC News Online examines the theory behind the treatment.
The treatment that is being offered to David Beckham is based on the theory that fitness levels can be improved by acclimatising the body to low levels of oxygen.
If he undergoes the treatment, Beckham will spend time in a sealed tent inside which oxygen levels will be lower than those found in the air in this country.
The hope is that this treatment will stop the regression in fitness normally seen among injured players
Dr Greg Whyte
This "hypoxic" environment essentially mimics the conditions found at high altitude, where the air is thinner and oxygen is in shorter supply.
It is well known that training at altitude can aid the performance of endurance athletes.
It is one reason why middle and long-distance races are so dominated by African athletes, who spend their lives at altitude and whose bodies get used to making the most of the oxygen supply at their disposal.
British athletes such as London marathon winner Paula Radcliffe often train at high altitude to achieve a similar effect.
When the body has to make do with a limited supply of oxygen, it steps up production of red blood cells.
These cells deliver oxygen to the muscles, where it plays an essential role in the release of energy.
The effect is to increase the body's capacity for exercise.
In Beckham's case the effect could help to cancel out the fact that he will be unable to train for several months while the broken metatarsal bone in his foot mends.
The theory is that once the bone is mended, he will be fit enough to resume top flight football almost immediately.
Paula Radcliffe has trained at altitude
Dr Greg Whyte, of the British Olympic Medical Centre, told BBC News Online, that the treatment was first developed by the Scandinavians in the 1980s.
It was principally designed for athletes in endurance Olympic sports.
But it is now thought that it might be even more effective for sportsmen such as footballers, who require short intermittent bursts of high activity.
Dr Whyte said: "The hope is that this treatment will stop the regression in fitness normally seen among injured players.
"If a player is immobile you will normally see a regression in aerobic fitness within seven days, and a loss of muscle mass around the injured area within four to six weeks."
While Beckham can continue with upper body exercises, he is likely to be unable to subject his foot to load-bearing training for up to seven weeks.
The hypoxic treatment is offered by a company called edge4.
Their tent comes complete with a generator that reduces the proportion of oxygen in the air inside from the normal 21% to about 15%.
This simulates an altitude of between 9,000ft and 15,000ft, which is similar to a normal ski resort.